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Well, that wasn't really the title of this night-before-Halloween concert, presented by the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra in Meredith College's Jones Auditorium before a remarkably large audience of folks, young, old, and in between. Some were done up in ghoulish and other ways, some were in mufti. My companion told me I was ugly enough already so no special costume was required. (My companion received a bowl of steam - à la Timon of Athens - for her post-concert supper.)
The stage was done up with pumpkins, and the organ pipes and shell were bathed in red light.
The conductor was the orchestra's recently-appointed Music Director, Jim Waddelow. He's a doctor, according to his resume, and people duly use that title when addressing him. This tidbit is apropos nothing in particular but we thought you should know.
The formal title was "An Evening of Tricks and Treats," and there were indeed some very neat tricks, particularly in the first half. The program began with the first movement of Bartók's second Violin Concerto, and it's good to be able to report that everyone played from the same music, in a manner of speaking - the soloist was to have done this last spring, during the "Rising Stars" concert, but there was a problem with the procurement of the score (no kidding).
The soloist was a bright light of our musical community, Rebecca Telford-Marx, of Durham. She began her studies at the age of 4 and won a slew of performance prizes here while working with the Ciompi Quartet's Eric Pritchard. She's now at Oberlin, honing her violin skills with Gregory Fulkerson while pursing two bachelor's degrees at the same time. The concerto she played is among Bartók's most accessible and rewarding works for listeners - it has always seemed more user-friendly than the three piano concerti or just about any other score by the Hungarian master (who spent some time in Asheville at the end of his life). It's not a piece of cake for the player - or for the accompanying forces - but Telford-Marx pulled off the evening's first major trick, making it seem simple and straightforward. Someone once said that ladies don't sweat - they perspire. This soloist was as cool as a cucumber in this fiendishly demanding music, setting off fireworks aplenty as she played. It was a tour de force of considerable proportions, one that - as often happens in the cases of RSO concerto competition winners - made us wish she had gone on to play the rest of the concerto. Brava!
The second trick - sort of a hat trick, perhaps - was an astonishingly good performance of Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony. It wasn't perfect. The intro could have been a lot more unified, and the trio in the third movement was sort of cattywampus (don’t you just love that word?), but believe me, this stuff is hard for world-class bands, and these folks did a wonderful job. Maestro Waddelow told us after the concert that he hopes to do more Haydn. Here’s a second for that. We don't hear enough Haydn on orchestral programs anymore. And Haydn is wonderful for polishing string and woodwind sections. Have at it!
There was a transformational trick before the second half, during which those butterflies of the orchestra turned into moths. (Is that how it's supposed to work?) Some of 'em were still recognizable in their Halloween get-ups. That concertmistress has a head of hair that won't stop, but is it real or fake? And who was that cowboy dude with the jet-black hair in the viola section? Now that was a transformation, for sure. (Readers who are on FaceBook can look up some scary photos of some of these characters.)
Dr. Waddelow came out in scrubs. (I dunno about you, but as a critic I would not go to this guy, doctor or not, with even a mild head cold.)
In all this wild garb, the orchestra played a Weber overture titled (in translation) "The Ruler of the Spirits." Chelsea Stith's excellent program notes told all about it. The late Bill Siddell would have called it "wild and wooly." It was ideal for a holiday concert like this. (Is Halloween a holiday?)
There followed a snippet from a Harry Potter flick my companion told me I am too old to know anything about (for which comment she got an extra serving of steam). Waddelow donned a wizard hat with what appeared to be mouse ears for this number. Then he ditched the hat and took up a bloody knife to cut to the core of the intro and "Shower Scene" from Psycho. I guess that butcher knife was meant to suggest some sort of instrument of the surgical variety, but the panchromatic blood was not "historically informed" since the blood in that scene of Pyscho was really chocolate syrup (by Bosco - click here if you doubt this).
It was something of a relief when the concert ended with a nice selection of excerpts from Khachaturian's Masquerade. With only one really noticeable exception, the playing in this was first rate. (That exception was in the concluding "Galop," which seemed to be a tad too brisk for the winds and brasses to play clearly at all times.)
Anyway, there were a bunch of tricks - some pulling of, say, Rembrandts, and nicely framed, too, out of paper-mache hats, as it were. And there were along the way bunches of impressive musical treats as well.
Did we report that the orchestra had 70 people on its published roster? The players pretty much filled the stage. The orchestra sounded really wonderful in the hall. This is a community group to treasure, tricks, treats, or what-have-you. Readers who haven't heard 'em should check 'em out. Those who have should give them every encouragement to keep up the good work. Contributions help them do that. Remember, we need to support only the groups we want to keep!
The next RSO concert will be a holiday program with the Raleigh Boychoir on December 3. For details, see our calendar.